Dance Gavin Dance – Afterburner


Album

Afterburner

Label

Rise

Year

2020

For Fans Of

Hail The Sun, Stolas, Eidola, Royal Coda.

Summary

Superb.

Rating

95 / 100

The ever-prolific Dance Gavin Dance can’t stop and won’t stop, so long as people keep listening to and loving what they do. Lucky for them, since that of Anthony Fantano’s favourite album, ‘Instant Gratification‘ (2015), they’ve been creating the best material of their career, no if’s or but’s about it, friends. Now, not even a full two years after 2018’s killer ‘Artificial Selection‘ wowed, and following a lengthy world tour run in 2019 accompanied by the release of kick-ass sibling singles, ‘Head Hunter‘ and ‘Blood Wolf,’ DGD are back with yet another new career-best, ‘Afterburner.’ Very few bands can achieve such an equilibrium of quantity and quality, but DGD does it without breaking a sweat, ensuring every song has its “moment”; making sure each track goes somewhere meaningful.

Pop, progressive rock, funk, Latin, emo-rap, and post-hardcore; Dance Gavin Dance cover a broad spectrum of musical styles with the 13 new songs residing deep at the fiery core of ‘Afterburner.’ ‘Afterburner‘ threads the needle exceptionally so between offering up surprising new detours for their colourful sound, whilst completely satisfying that usual DGD song craft craving; scratching a particular itch that only they’ve got the nails for. The big emphasis on groove, Kris Crummett’s stellar production, the vibrant tones and slick guitar tapping, all of the chord progressions, those ear-worming vocal hooks, and that powerhouse dual-vocal chemistry; it’s the classic DGD that we’ve known for yonks. Yet it all feels fresh and improved; they sound as driven and as powerful as ever. And the surprising but really quite fitting added influences of Latin and funk music that flesh out this ninth LP do so much for the band’s sound.

As ascending vocal pitch runs repeat in the verses of ‘Prisoner‘ from Tilian Pearson, the band get super funky and colourful with their post-hardcore vibes all intact. It’s essentially a perfect opener for DGD IX (DGD X if we’re counting the first EP), featuring some great additional guitar work from Royal Coda and Stolas’s Sergio Medina. It lays down the foundation for the kind of urgent, soaring, technical and catchy measures that the Sacramento act take to the highest degree as things progress. A self-criticism of not being honest, a call out of liars, and highlighting the importance of transparency in one’s art and brand, ‘Lyrics Lie‘ ramps up the aggression following ‘Prisoner.’ Tilian yelling harshly for a back-and-forth post-chorus section with absurdist screamer Jon Mess is so damn cool – a great example of their impenetrable vocal relationship, reminding me of Tilian’s older Tides Of Man days – as is the cheeky bongo drumming during the chilled-out, Latin bridge. And there’s no way that the lyric “I’ve got what it takes to inspire you,” given the title and theme of this second song, isn’t a reference to ‘Inspire The Liars,’ right? It seems that with each new record, DGD rip and tear more pages from the rule book, continually reaching new heights.

 

After the blow of a whistle, the funky syncopation of ‘Calentamiento Global‘ (meaning ‘heating’ or ‘warming’) becomes Contrast City. The playful arrangements around Tilian’s soothing vocals, as he sings in Spanish – no, I’m not kidding, and his voice carries just as well in another language – are so bubbly and bright, especially the playing from bassist Tim Feerick. But when Jon comes in, screaming in English with this solid melodic pitched tone, the drums tighten up and lurch forward, the riffs palm-mute harder, things become tenser, as the song leaps between these two extremes for what is one of the most interesting songs in DGD’s catalogue of late. Thankfully, ‘Calentamiento Global‘ doesn’t feel shallow; it’s blissful head-bobbing fun; a song that could be a big hit for them. ‘Calentamiento Global‘ is something totally unexpected, but something that’ll mean a lot to a different demographic of their fans.

Next up, the sexy sing-alongs and rapid riffage of the summery ‘Three Wishes‘ will be an upbeat, wet-dream for many fans. This fourth track is a fantastic example of the five-piece’s air-tight grooves, as the rhythm section of drummer Matt Mingus and Tim lock-in, always playing for the song, often following Will’s patterns. It all puts a big dumb smile on my face, one that grows bigger as Tilian’s singing and Jon’s screaming layer on top of each other; think the end of ‘Count Bassy‘ but not as long. As always, Jon’s lyrics are golden little nuggets of social commentary and wisdom or are nonsensical personal anecdotes that are saying something, though I’m often not sure what that something is. There’s no in-between. Things are no different here, as Jon screams on ‘Three Wishes‘: “Only eight editions of the limited left. Authentic, new and precious, I’m completely obsessed. My mouth is open wider than the time I had sex. I knew you’d do this. You’re awesome, bitch.” (And when he screamed “Get off the high horse and fly the spy plane” on ‘Prisoner,’ I felt that shit.)

With modulated guitars, ‘One In A Million‘ is a song that I can only label as “pop-metal” but one sitting under the cheeky lens of Swancore, with some of the poppiest hooks DGD have maybe ever written. This fourth cut shows off their fantastic restraint, so when you reach that absolutely joyful “hallelujah” climax, DGD cut themselves out of this music scene and paste themselves into their own. It’s here you can tell that Drew Fulk (WZRD BLD, he also did the next Make Them Suffer record) is behind the vocal production. What makes Tilian great is that he does this phenomenal job of writing insanely memorable vocal melodies, and then singing them wonderfully in his own way, for I’ve never once confused his voice with that of another singer’s. How Drew’s approached all of the singing and screaming (and rapping, more on that shortly) really smooth this album out. So too does the noticeably stronger direction of the vocal harmonies. Truthfully, DGD haven’t sounded better!

Back on track, the busier ‘Parody Catharsis‘ is like a rush of blood to the head, seeing guitarist Will Swan bust out a quick rap section over scratchy guitars during the song’s verses, his first time doing so since ‘Eagle vs Crows‘ except this one is infinitely less cringe than that older 2015 cut’s rap part. All the while the band gallop towards this weirdly dissonant, melancholic breakdown for the song’s finale that’s a spine-tingling cap-off; a little songwriting resolution “trick” heard at multiple other points on the LP, like on ‘Into The Sunset‘ or ‘Born To Fail,’ though it always feels earned. (I love how they bring back those cheeky little dinging key bells from ‘Blood Wolf.’)

Strawberry’s Wake‘ is one of the most infectious, jubilant songs DGD have ever written; perfectly balancing the moody, star-gazing vibe this band loves to adhere to with punchy instrumentation, great riffs, and better hooks. It’s all feeling, all of the time, baby. Every time I hear Jon scream “hey!” and “I want you to matter you” I feel like I gain an extra year tacked onto my lifespan. It’s an inspiring song about self-care, telling you to “forget those backstabbers” and to not be too hard on yourself. Thanks DGD, I needed that. On the flip side, the search for substance on ‘Born To Fail‘ is one of two vastly heavier numbers found on this full-length, pushing their jagged rhythms and heavier tones harder as it leads with Jon’s aggro fry screams and distorted, flurried guitars. That’s even with the glittering, tremolo-heavy post-rock closing section that shifts the sad mood and feel of this sporadic song brilliantly.

Parallels‘ is where shit gets weird for DGD, slowing things down, becoming a little poppier, looser and minimal, making you second guess where the fuck it’s all going. (Those quick little whispers, anybody?) By the end of this jam, when one of the guitars is firing off like a pointed laser beam under an accompanying gorgeous lead melody, you’ll get your answer about where it went, but you still might know how we quite got there. More than that, Tilian’s repeated line of “I live alone, die alone, I’m my own boss…” during the verses does seem like an unintentional self-isolation call-out. Featuring additional guitars from Eidola frontman and session/touring member, Andrew Wells, ‘Night Sway‘ is a fast, double-kick-blasting classic post-hardcore jam for that of DGD, littered with quick-fire guitar tapping runs and flashy duelling harmonies. This thing is urgent, pissed-off, and oh so satisfying.

Now, the somewhat-depressing and filthy sounding ‘Say Hi‘ is what I’d call a real “Jon song,” where we see the oddball screamer take the lead ahead of his cohorts (instead of Tilian belting out those big-ass refrains about decompressing and personal normality), screaming about love and wanting to die, letting the heavier chugs and discordant metalcore mood and rhythms make for a hostile takeover. Maybe excluding ‘The Rattler,’ I can’t recall a song as gnarly or as heavy as this from DGD in quite some time; it’s practically a Secret Band song in many ways but I ain’t complaining.

The high-flying vocals and pummeling instrumentals of ‘Nothing Shameful‘ intertwine like lovers via a wicked, dotted syncopated rhythmic flow that pushes and pulls both elements onward, in such an engaging manner. Seeing Andrew return to do vocals, after the stunning ‘Evaporate,’ for this angular penultimate tune is one of the real MVP moments of the whole fucking record. He spins the song into this lighter, warmer left-turn, as Andrew’s dulcet vocals create a huge middle-eight section that is just so lovely. (He’s a suitable complementary voice to Tilian and Jon, and I hope we don’t stop hearing him moving forward.) All before the rest of DGD take things back to that swelling intro part, having the guitars and vocals gallop alongside one another.

Reigning in the tempo with a slower 6/8 feel, the drifting timbre of ‘Into The Sunset‘ picks up ‘Afterburner‘ and rides it off into the bleeding horizon, as Tilian croons “surrender…“. But hang on, it then suddenly becomes an electro emo-rap song with DGD guitar lines overhead, as former Attack! Attack! frontman, Johnny Franck, AKA Bilmuri, takes the mic and makes the song his own. (After Tilian guested on ‘THEMURIWITHHUMANHAIR‘ last year, this is a fair enough back-scratch.) Quite frankly, it shits all over whatever trap-pop stuff Jonny Craig is currently doing. Heading back into familiar territory, this reverb-soaked guitar motif flies over snappy kick drums and Jon’s hair-raising screams. Right on cue, ‘Into The Sunset‘ again morphs back into 808s, programmed hi-hats and handclaps, as Will spits rhymes with a gritty rap style. Is it as stellar of a finale as ‘Evaporate‘ was last time around? Not to take away from how damned good this particular closer is, but not quite. Nonetheless, ‘Into The Sunset‘ concludes ‘Afterburner‘ in superb fashion; a great end to a phenomenal full-length.

Conclusion

‘Afterburner’ is the essential Dance Gavin Dance experience. It is simultaneously the most Dance Gavin Dance record that you could expect these days, whilst containing plenty of fresh ideas and different genre influences that tastefully boost their progressive post-hardcore sound with funk, rap, Latin, and pop vibes. It’s perfectly balanced with old and new; with familiar similarities and sudden surprises alike abounding. Intricate, catchy, emotional and deceptively complex, with their own defining dynamic, ‘Afterburner’ is their most consistent album so far, continuing on an insane track-record that DGD has trail-blazed over in the last five years. It’s also their most interesting album to date, and it could very well define where things will head for the American group as they’re only bound to grow larger and expand further. They’ve somehow nailed quantity and quality, making ‘Afterburner’ their finest album; a record where you just have to talk about each and every song. There’s zero burn-out here, folks. It’s all so genuine and well-written that I’m I know I’m not being sold some cynical, cheap, close-minded record of a band failing to challenge themselves and remain relevant. Quite the opposite, in fact; DGD have never been bigger or better. What a rejuvenating record this is!

Tracklisting

Prisoner
Lyrics Lie
Calentamiento Global
Three Wishes
One In A Million
Parody Catharsis
Strawberry’s Wake
Born To Fail
Parallels
Night Sway
Say Hi
Nothing Shameful
Into The Sunset

‘Afterburner’ is out Friday, April 24th: 

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